Waspi women on brink of defeat after eight year state pension ‘nightmare’

Women born in the 1950s protest during a Day of Action to draw attention to the women affected by the rise of the state pension age, from 60 to 66, organised by different groups including WASPI
It is estimated that around four million women were pushed into financial hardship from the pension change - Jenny Matthews/Getty

Millions of women born in the 1950s fighting to win back “lost” state pension payments are on the brink of defeat, after years of campaigning and hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on legal fees.

Until 2010, women were entitled to receive the state pension from the age of 60. The Government announced in 1995 that this would gradually increase to the age of 65 to bring it in line with men. Both ages now rise in tandem.

However, the Women Against State Pension Inequality, or “Waspi”, campaign group has, since 2015, argued women born in the 1950s, who were most affected by the change to when they could claim the state pension, were not given enough notice or detail.

It is estimated that around four million women were pushed into financial hardship as their retirement plans were knocked off course.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, the government watchdog, found in 2021 that the Department for Work and Pensions was guilty of maladministration.

It has been reported that the ombudsman nevertheless plans to refer the case to Parliament.

A leaked memo on the journalist David Hencke’s blog suggests the ombudsman will ask Parliament to identify a solution.

If the decision goes to Parliament, it is unlikely that the majority of MPs will break with the DWP’s view on the matter and vote for compensation, experts have warned.

Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister and now partner at the consultancy LCP, said the cost of compensating Waspi women would be “enormous”.

“Parliament is sovereign and can do what it likes, but there is a lot of respect for the ombudsman’s reports.

“However it is unlikely that when Parliament does receive the full report, it decides to spend billions on compensation.”

It means the efforts of thousands of women, as well as thousands of pounds crowdfunded for legal campaigns, could be wasted.

To date, almost 10,000 people have donated £151,000 to the Waspi campaign group to fund a claim at the High Court for a judicial review of the ombudsman’s report.

More than 900 people have donated £16,000 to progress a group class action against the DWP via CEDAWinLaw, the successor body to the separate “Back To 60” campaign group.

The “Back To 60” group was renowned for its campaign tactics, including a flash mob dance performance opposite the House of Lords, projecting images on to Parliament and the Bank of England.

‘A nightmare’

June Lambert, a 68-year-old from Northamptonshire, believes she is owed more than £50,000 in state pension payments from the Government.

“I have donated to legal campaigns as I feel very strongly about it,” she said.

“I started work when I was 15 and worked through till I was 60. I only realised a couple of months before I turned 60 that I would have to wait another six years before I was eligible for the state pension. But I had to finish work then as my husband had been diagnosed with motor neuron disease and prostate cancer, so I became his only and full-time carer.

“I gave up working and had to rely on my savings and carer’s allowance. He passed away in 2019 and I have just been living on my savings since. It’s been a nightmare.”

Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister, said she would like to see a “recognition of the hardship” that women were put through because of the maladministration of state pension age increases.

Pensions campaigner Ros Altmann
Pensions campaigner Ros Altmann: ‘We need to see a recognition of the hardship that women have been put through’ - Jonathan Brady/PA

“I am one of the women affected myself, however I do not believe I deserve any compensation because I agreed with the idea of equalising state pension age between men and women,” she said. “However, the manner in which this was done – and then particularly the second increase – caused significant problems for many and I do believe in some recognition that this has caused women some real hardship.”

The Parliamentary Ombudsman found in 2021 that the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to provide clear communication around state pension ages. However, it has never formally published any recommendations for redress.

It was expected to publish the second stage of its investigation by the end of March this year, but was delayed indefinitely after a legal challenge to its original draft.

The final report is expected to be published early next year, however the High Court ruled in 2019 that the Government was right to correct “historic direct discrimination against men” and underlined that the ombudsman cannot reimburse “lost” pensions.

Angela Madden, the chair of the Waspi group, said: “Waspi continues to work with sample complainants to ensure the PHSO takes full account of all the impacts on those affected. Our campaigning and legal challenges have ensured women are heard and we will continue that work in the closing months of this investigation.”

A PHSO spokesman said it had shared its provisional views with complainants and DWP, and would consider any responses it received before making final decisions.

“We are confident that we have carried out a fair and impartial investigation. As an independent ombudsman, our duty is to provide the right outcome for all involved and make sure justice is achieved. The cooperative approach we have taken will provide the quickest route to remedy for those affected.”

A spokesman for DWP said: “We do not comment on leaks and it would be inappropriate to do so while the ombudsman’s investigation is ongoing.

“The Government decided over 25 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women.

“Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the DWP, under successive governments dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants permission to appeal.”

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